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Taking the formula from their debut release, Massachusetts based black metal outfit, In Human Form, return to the fold with their first full length album, “Earthen Urn”, which was independently released by the band in early 2013. Those who have heard the debut, “Chapters I-IV”, should not be surprised by what’s offered here, albeit the band reaches further and encompasses a wider array of influences. The biggest change, though, is the use of longer songs, allowing a lot more breathing room, from a listening standpoint.
If there was one word to describe In Human Form’s debut release, it would be abrasive. The debut was a challenging listen, as a lot of elements were crammed into a short run time, but delving into those elements provided some significant rewards. If nothing else, you could tell that the band had potential. “Earthen Urn” shows the band fulfilling some of that potential. As I said, the songs are longer, which allows for the vast array of influences to shine through, without sounding crammed, forced or out of place.
The base of the music is black metal, for sure. The guitarist shows off with a lot of precise trem picking, like your standard black metal act, but when he moves away from standard black metal lines, he really stands out from the over-saturated field. With the longer song structures, the guitarist is able to input some spacey and clean progish licks that slowly build into swirling patterns of chaotic trem riffing. The most entertaining portions are when some mathcore-ish lead sections take over, sounding much like a black metal version of Botch or Dillinger Escape Plan. A close comparison to these sections would be the later output of Deathspell Omega (“Drought” really comes to mind here). Traditional inspired leads sore in and out, such as at the three minute mark of "Fragmented Reflections Shimmer in the Shards of Shattered Mirrors", which shows a slight Iron Maiden influence over a mid-paced chugging riff.
The drums are, once again, outstanding. Ranging from a fast paced, roll filled straight kick to double kick into straight blast beats (as heard at the end of "Cognitive Reconnaissance") or into laid back rock-laden beats. The drums have a tendency to be very rhythmic, with some odd timings and patterns. The focus seems to be on rollicking rhythms than speed and blasting. My biggest gripe with the drums is the excessively loud bass hits, compared to the rest of the percussion.
One of the downfalls of the previous work were the inconsistent vocal lines. "Chapters I-IV" showcased two distinct styles of vocals, high and low. The lower vocals sounded really out of place and forced, and thankfully, the band removed them from the equation. The focus is now on a raspy, high pitched shouted style of delivery. I wouldn't really call it a standard black metal delivery, because it's more distantly frenzied than most, rather than the shrieking anguish or seething rage styles. The vocals seem to take a back seat to the instrumentation too, as the vocals only comprise small portions of the massive tracks here.
Staying away from endless abrasive, blasting black metal, the music instead centers on wandering passages that go in and out of black metal and into other realms, like mentioned before. With the longer songs and progressive sounding intros, the band moves towards a less hippy-ish, Cascadian feel. Industrial elements do persist, especially with "Prisms of Now", a very machine-like ambient track, which unfortunately kills the flow in an otherwise superb listen, but it's not overbearing. The music does get abrasive, but rather than six minutes of straight black metal shoved down your throat, the band takes twelve minutes and gives you breathing room when the proverbial pedal is let off, allowing some atmospheric elements to take the weight of your chest.
This may be more agreeable to those not loving chaotic and abrasive black metal than the band's debut, but "Earthen Urn" is still a black metal album at heart. The progressive, traditional, thrash, doom and whatever other elements that are added in do throw an interesting twist on it, but it's still black metal. Longer songs and smoother songwriting really show In Human Form as a maturing and exciting act. "Earthen Urn" shows In Human Form progressing past the normal bounds of black metal and experimenting on their own terms. Despite a few very minor flaws, they seem to have nailed the formula on this one.